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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Reader in Your Life

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Buying new books for a bibliophile is always a challenge. Instead of running the risk of purchasing a title they've already read, give your favorite reader one of these creative, literary-themed gifts as a holiday present.

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1. LEATHER BOOK BAGS; $105 AND UP

Etsy user Krukrustudio’s totes give new meaning to the phrase “book bag.” Each rectangular satchel is designed to look like a classic tome—right down to the author’s byline and the illustrated cover art. The outside is crafted from either faux or real leather, and the inside is fully lined, with an inner pocket and a magnetic snap closure. And since each bag is produced by hand, you can custom-order them in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles.

Find It: Etsy

2. BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB, 3-MONTH MEMBERSHIP; $45

Too busy to visit the library or join a book club? The Book of the Month Club has you covered. The subscription-based e-commerce book club is presided over by a team of judges, who choose five new books for members to read each month. Your favorite book enthusiast can select which work they want shipped, or let the club choose a title. Once they’ve received the book in the mail, they can read it and discuss it with other members on the Book of the Month Club’s website. All plans include one hardcover book and free shipping, but particularly voracious readers can add extra books for $10 each.

Find It: Book of the Month Club

3. FIRE ESCAPE SHELF; $99

A mounted bookshelf helps literary urbanites make the most of a small apartment. This fire escape-inspired storage rack saves precious floor space, and looks stylish to boot. It’s fashioned from sturdy, epoxy-covered iron, and can hold up to 15 pounds.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

4. "LIBRARY STAMP" V-NECK T-SHIRT; $30

So many public libraries have adopted computerized checkout systems that the once-ubiquitous date due ink stamp has all but vanished. Pay homage to the bygone practice by donning Out of Print’s graphic T-shirt. Each one features a library stamp-inspired design on its front, and for every shirt purchased, Out of Print will donate one book to a community in need. 

Find It: Amazon

5. 100 ESSENTIAL NOVELS SCRATCH-OFF CHART; $35

Help a loved one show off how well read they are. The data visualization pros over at PopChartLab designed a scratch-off poster that lets your giftee keep track of which classic novels they’ve completed. It features 100 novels, published from 1605 to present. After they’ve finished a book, they only need to scrape the gold foil off its miniature cover to reveal a hidden illustration underneath.

Find It: PopChartLab

6.THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: WICKEDLY GOOD MEALS AND DESSERTS TO DIE FOR; $17

Food and drink often play an important role in murder mysteries. Sometimes it’s poisoned; other times, it serves as a metaphor or a plot device. To celebrate this delicious (and deadly) relationship, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook (2015) compiles more than 100 beverage and meal recipes provided by famous mystery authors including Mary Higgins Clark, Gillian Flynn, and James Patterson. Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of the Bailey Weggins mystery series, serves as the cookbook’s editor.

Find It: Amazon

7. TEXTURE; $30 FOR THREE MONTHS

Texture is an app that provides readers with unlimited digital access to all the magazines they love. It lets them peruse current and back issues of titles produced by Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., Rogers Communications, and Time Inc. Texture is available for download on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and on Android devices and Amazon Fire tablets.

Find It: Texture

8. HOLMES AND WATSON SET; $125

This set of six, pocket-sized Sherlock Holmes works is designed to be read and admired on a shelf. Each hardcover, cloth-bound book comes in a custom jacket; when grouped together, they form an illustrated picture of Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Watson. The collection includes titles like The Hound of the Baskervilles (1893),The Valley of Fear (1914), A Study in Scarlet (1887), and more. You can also order the works with book jackets designed to look like a silhouette of Holmes.

Find It: Juniper Books

9. KINDLE OASIS; $290

The latest—and most high-tech—iteration of Amazon’s Kindle E-reader is the Kindle Oasis. It’s thinner and lighter than its predecessors, and a new, improved handgrip design makes it easier to hold. It also comes with a leather charging cover to boost battery life.

Find It: Amazon

10. NOVEL TEAS; $13

Few things are cozier than curling up on a couch with a good book and a warm drink. These boxes of caffeinated English breakfast teas include 25 tea bags, and each one features a different quote from a famous author on its tag. (Example: “Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?” –Henry Ward Beecher)

Find It: Uncommon Goods

11. BOOK LAMP; $200 

The Lumio Book Lamp is proof that you should never judge a book by its cover. From the outside, it looks like a hardcover tome, bound in laser-cut wood. But when you open it, an accordion-shaped LED light springs out. The Lumio’s pleated folds are made from a synthetic, water-resistant material, and they expand up to 180 degrees for maximum brightness. And just like a real book, the Lumio is portable: A rechargeable battery provides it with wireless power for up to eight hours, and it can be mounted with magnetic pegs or hung lantern-style from a leather strap.

Find It: MoMA Design Store

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
chartaediania, eBay
chartaediania, eBay

In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

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